BBYO teen group adapts during pandemic


Photo courtesy of Ariella Ball

A BBYO chapter meetings during the pandemic have had to adopt new safety precautions.

Lena Nadaner, guest writer

Teenagers stare at a screen for another hour, their heads aching from the bright light. They then open an additional Zoom link in hope of seeing familiar friends and strengthening their connection to Judaism. This is what Jewish youth groups look like during the age of the pandemic where students are forced to reimagine their usual practices.

“It was frustrating not being able to have in-person programs together for the past … seven months,” junior Ariella Ball, N’siah (president) of Koach BBG said.

Before, BBYO offered Monday night meetings, Saturday night programming and conventions. Likewise, the Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) is a group that helps connect children to Israel. Their usual activities included hikes, overnight programs, volunteering and holiday festivities, but those have all had to be adjusted.

When COVID-19 reached the U.S. in March, BBYO immediately went online and launched BBYO On Demand. The programming included virtual escape rooms, brotherhood/sisterhood programs, online conventions and video chats with celebrities.

“With virtual programs, it’s new for everyone and we are learning along the way,” Regional Director of BBYO’s DC Council Jenna Bernstein said. “I think as long as we keep taking those lessons, I hope we will improve.”

While virtual programming has allowed members with busy schedules to participate more, some members have stopped attending programs entirely because of Zoom fatigue.

“It definitely has been hard and I think that for all chapters attendance is just generally lower,” Ball said. “Which is why I’m working on getting members to come back.”

Some of the activities Bernstein has used to try to engage members are breakout rooms in Zoom, Jamboard and Google Classroom. While these have been somewhat successful, Bernstein says that it doesn’t quite live up to in-person meetings.

“There’s just some things you can’t replicate, unfortunately,” Bernstein said.

Similarly, the Israeli Scouts also met virtually beginning in March, which was “very hard because you have to try to engage the kids through Zoom and think about unique ideas,” junior Noa Shelef, an Israeli Scouts member said. One virtual activity Shelef enjoyed was making chocolate mug-cakes.

Unlike BBYO, the Israeli Scouts have resumed in-person meetings this school year while following COVID-19 guidelines.

Once restrictions are lifted, BBYO plans to involve virtual programming in their normal practices to be more accessible for members with busy schedules.

Even with the restrictions, being a part of a Jewish youth group “make[s] this time really exciting and a lot more comforting,” Ball said. “Knowing that there’s a group of people out there that … is always there for you and that you’re able to have fun with.”

Bernstein has tried to find the positive in the midst of a difficult time. After a long period of virtual programming, members may be more eager and inspired to participate in-person than they were in the past.

The break was “a blessing because we got to really think about why we do the things we do,” Bernstein said. “If we do them because we have always done them that way, or if we do them because they’re so effective.”